Media, power, and culture.

It had always troubled me when I was younger how the prevalence of contemporary architecture [or designed solutions in general] seemed to simply not exist in the area I grew up in. It was annoying to not see good design around but even more troubling than not seeing was feeling as though no one around me understood or had even been exposed to such modes of thought [it was another shock when it seemed the same held true for my new classmates in architecture school]. In any case, I think it's safe to say that in its entirety, this nation is somewhat removed from embracing and advocating design in its popular culture. Of course then one has to question, "What IS popular culture? How is it influenced and how does it change?" In posing that question to myself, my reactions are many and mixed [but I doubt I'll have the attention span to hit on everything in this one entry]. In the post 9/11-mass media-information overload-globalized-digital age this country [and the world] is experiencing, public opinion seems to be easily influenced and unstable. Through instant access to 'as-they-happen' current events, social networking, and a myriad of communication tools this world is moving faster than ever before. It seems now that public opinion can now change at any moment. Take for instance sustainability. A movement that remained for a long time a largely counter-culture idea was scooped up by big media and essentially regurgitated through advertising and is now a buzz-word to get the public to buy into a product because 'green is cool.' And this all happened in what seems like a blink of an eye. Now 'sustainability' is as common a phrase as 'buy now!'

So how long will design stay underground? According to my television the answer is 'not soon enough'. There once was a time when the families featured in advertisements lived in the same kinds of houses as the families in the market they were trying to reach. Mom would spread Jiffy on bread in a traditional kitchen just as the bus came for school. Yet now increasingly I seem to see families living in modernist and well designed homes. A woman will speak to me as she sits on a vintage Eames fiberglass chair or an environmentally-friendly car will zoom past cool New York City lofts. So why the shift? Is the public now more accepting of design and contemporary architecture? Is design thinking finally permeating down to Joe the Plumber? Or is it the other way around? I seem to think that possibly the prevalence of design in television commercials is/will aid to the public acceptance of contemporary architecture. Maybe someday soon the majority of new architecture projects will utilize real design instead of remaining committed to nostalgia. Architects everywhere will be able to practice freely instead of absorbing themselves into niche markets. It has already been proven that the media has this power over popular culture, but will design really catch on in The States? [It would be interesting to examine why Europe has more public accessibility to design and if the way in which that happened will be duplicated in American culture…]

However it happens, one thing is uncertain: will this really be good for architecture and design? Maybe I'll leave that question for another day. In the meantime, here are some ads that I've seen on TV that illustrate my observation.